online syllabus:

electronic reserves:

(password 400)

~ schedule ~

* groups * homework * essay *

Literature 400:

Narrative in Film and Literature

Winter 2013

Dr. Abby Coykendall

abbcoy at

Office: 603J Pray Harrold
Winter Hours:
Tuesday 3–4:30 & 8:10–8:40 PM;
Thursday 4–5:30, 9:10–9:40 PM

~ or email for an appointment ~

Section #27129

TUESDAY 5:30-8:10 pm

Pray-Harrold Hall 318

Literature 400: Narrative in Film and Literature

Whether retailing horror flicks or romantic comedies, the mainstream film and print industries attempt to appeal universally to the desires of everyone. But who is that elusive “everyone”? And how can either cinema or literature gratify the innermost deepest-darkest desires of such an infinitely interchangeable and anonymous set of people as that en masse? As technologies of popular fantasy, films and novels are the foremost vehicles used to mirror, as well as to escape from, everyday life. Mass-produced and widely distributed, they conjure not only that which slips unnoticed from conventional and thereby supposedly “realistic” accounts of experience, but also that which persists as all-too formulaic in the cultural imagination, potentially (re)producing reality itself from a limited repertoire of scripts and scenarios always already familiar yet otherwise long past. In this course, we will investigate an array of emblematic films produced in distinct cultural milieus, treating them essentially as time capsules of their social, historical, and aesthetic contexts. Of particular interest will be the ways in which filmic and fictional narratives influence the construction and reconstruction of identity, whether subjective or social, and how these forms of mass media inflect the stories that we tell of the self, of the nation, and of the larger global community.

Course Objectives:

Ultimately, by the end of the term, you will be better able to

* Identify the narrative techniques that distinguish film from literature;

* Understand how film and literature work in tandem to instill or counteract national, sexual, racial, ethnic, classist, or gendered ideologies;

* Investigate how film, both in its adaptation of literature and in its formal structure, goes hand in hand with other art forms to reflect and even generate anew our cultural heritage;

* Explore the mutual intercourse between so-called high art and popular culture, coming to recognize the benefits and limitations of each;

* Inquire how filmic and literary narratives change over time in distinct cultural contexts;

* Enhance verbal, visual, and cultural literacy by interpreting film with the same critical acumen traditionally applied to literature alone.

Course Texts and Materials:




** The Narrative Reader, ed. by Martin McQuillan (Routledge 2000; ISBN# 0415205336)

** Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin, 2006; ISBN# 0618477942)

The remaining texts are available in the Electronic Reserves (ER), printable from any campus computer:, password 400. Always bring copies of required readings to class. You will need everything on hand for groupwork and class discussions.

You will also need to watch the films on your own outside of class in a timely fashion; otherwise, you will not be able to participate in the class discussions. The most convenient way to access them is through a service like Netflix ( or Amazon ( Alternately, you can rent them from a nearby video store or check them out from the Ypsilanti Public Library. Films marked with asterisks (***) on the Schedule (/sched.htm) are on reserve at the circulation desk of the Halle library; however, make sure to watch these films at least a few days before class since they may be in demand.

Course Structure:

We will examine one literary work — Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home — in depth along with one film adaptation: Ang Lee’s 2005 version of Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain. Typically, though, we will watch a pair of films in tandem—a classic film one week and a more contemporary film the next—to better assess shifts in the cultural imagination over time. On some weeks (depending on your group number), you will need to read the optional theorists along with the required readings. Graduate students must read both the optional and required theorists as a rule.

Course Itinerary:

See the Schedule (/sch.htm) for the viewing and reading activities required each week (webpages associated with this class all begin The theoretical works may prove daunting to read, but you do not need to master every single concept that the author unfolds. Focus on the big picture, tracing three or four of the key arguments, honing in on specific ideas most of interest to you, and drawing connections between those ideas and the films that we will be discussing for the week. The more conversant you become in the course materials over the span of the term, the easier it will be to write that paper at its conclusion.


Every class there will be informal homework assignments due to ensure ongoing preparation for and participation in class. Depending on your group number, you will be composing discussion questions, applying the theory to the literature (or comparing two films) in written responses, or presenting quotations from optional reading. See the Homework Assignments handout (/hmwk.htm) for further information.

The groupwork is simply a way to organize which set of students do which assignment (and with which materials) each week, thus diversifying the topics highlighted in class discussion, the people responsible for bringing those issues to our attention, as well as the skills that they use to do so. Most classes will consist of interactive discussions stemming from the groupwork. However, there is no “groupwork” properly speaking; that is, collaboration with peers on the same assignment. You will not need to meet with peers outside of class, only contact them on occasion by email to make sure that you are not covering the same text or topic. See the Groups handout for the contact information (/groups.htm)

Assessment Weights



Weekly Homework & Class Participation

 due dates:


Research Proposal

March 28 (9:00 PM)


Presentation on Research Project

April 23


Comparison-Contrast Research Essay on Two Films

April 23

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours, as well as at any time through email (abbcoy at Emails with straightforward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with thornier issues usually receive a reply within a week. Please limit inquiries to those that I alone can answer so I can give the more pressing issues of other students the attention that they deserve. If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus (/w13.htm), the online handouts, or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email only if the confusion persists. The first time that undergraduates visit my office hours in person with a course-related inquiry, such as to get guidance on homework, discuss readings lately covered, or brainstorm essay ideas, I will give 10 points extra credit for the visit.


Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial. You never need to explain your absences, as I will always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class. However, However, students who miss more than TWO classes for any reason will have their final grade reduced by a full mark, and those who miss more than THREE classes will not be eligible to pass. By that point, any further absences would make it impossible for you to achieve the course objectives. Reserve absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other unforeseen emergencies preventing you from coming to class and make sure not to exhaust your allowable absences too early in the term.

When you must be absent, contact the other students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed. All missed homework is due on your return, and any changes to the Schedule (/sched.htm) will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarification of issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is essential to come on time. Make sure to leave early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking). Arriving well into the period or exiting well before its conclusion both count as half an absence. If you are late, it is your responsibility to sign the attendance sheet to avoid being marked absent. Habitual lateness that disrupts the class eventually counts as an absence (or absences) as well.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers during class time, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself. Once class begins, do not distract your peers by walking in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency. If you have a medical condition requiring you to leave occasionally, bring a doctor’s note confirming as such; otherwise, conduct all personal business outside of class.

Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical. Students unprepared to discuss the materials for the day, or discovered using laptops or phones for purposes unrelated to the course, will be asked to leave and marked absent. This course has a no-laptop, no-cell-phone policy, so do not bother using these instruments during class time unless specifically asked to do so to look something up.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all coursework on your own, is imperative. Copying the homework of peers, taking credit for essays that you find on the internet, cheating on exams, or recycling your own essays written for other classes for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty. The worst form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism, which, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own. You must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstance, whether it be by drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration.

When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to signal as such (e.g., So and so says X … ”); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your own writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (e.g., So and so says “X”). Writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and any writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

All instances of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; second instances will result in outright failure of the course. There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor will there be any exceptions to this policy. Make sure that your work is plagiarism-free before turning it in.

Grading Scale:





























Academic Resources & Campus Safety

At some point in the term, you might consider taking advantage of the University Writing Center located in Halle 115 (9-6 M-Th; 11-4 Fri.), which assists with the writing skills necessary for success in this or any other class. The Academic Projects Center located in Halle 116 (11-5 M-Th) offers one-to-one consulting for students on writing, research, or technology-related issues. The International Student Resource Center located in Alexander 200 (487-0370) is dedicated to second-language students from abroad. 

You can also avail yourself of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the campus.

File last saved January 15, 2013